Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for August 21st, 2020

When I first heard that renowned Virginia Woolf scholar Maggie Humm was writing a novel featuring Lily Briscoe and based on Woolf’s semi-autobiographical novel To the Lighthouse (1927), I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy.

The opportunity came in March, when I saw on Facebook that Maggie had advance reader’s copies in her grasp. After meeting Maggie at many Woolf conferences, I consider her a friend. So I contacted her and asked for a copy. She immediately promised to send one.

Pandemic realities on both sides of the pond

A few hours later, pandemic reality hit her. Recalling that the coronavirus had pretty much grounded all international flights, thereby shutting down international mail delivery, Maggie realized that a copy mailed from England would be unlikely to reach me. She put me in touch with her U.S. publicist to obtain a copy stateside instead.

The book arrived quickly, and I expected to jump right in. But my pandemic reality meant I had difficulty focusing on Maggie’s book — or any book — until recently. That made me late finishing the novel and late posting about it here as well. But since it is now available on Amazon, better late than never. So here goes.

Talland House fills in and illuminates

Maggie, emeritus professor of cultural studies at the University of East London, is the author or editor of 14 books, with the last three focused on Woolf and the arts. So it is only natural that in her first novel, Talland House, Maggie focuses on artist Lily Briscoe from To the Lighthouse.

To that end, Talland House fills in Lily’s back story — the death of her mother, her art studies in Paris and St. Ives, her work as a nurse during the Great War, and her involvement in the suffrage movement. Set between 1900 and 1918 in both Cornwall and London, it also provides a prequel to Woolf’s novel and reimagines that work from Lily’s perspective.

That reimagining includes Mrs. Ramsay’s demise. Her death, mentioned briefly and parenthetically in Woolf’s novel, is “discovered” or explained in Maggie’s novel. But I will include no spoilers here.

While conducting research to write the novel, Maggie pored over old photos of St. Ives, as well as Cornish newspapers, artists’ memoirs, and art journals to get a feel for the seaside town and its art community during the years the novel covers.

St. Ives Bay, June 2004

The extent of her research shows in her luminous prose that paints a compelling and colorful picture of St. Ives and its charms, the location of all of Woolf’s novel and much of Talland House. The picture is so complete — from the view of the lighthouse from Talland House to the fishing boats in the harbor — that one is transported back in time to the cobblestone streets of the Cornish town.

References slipped into a must-read

Woolf scholars and readers will delight in catching the specific references to Woolf’s work that Maggie slips into this historical novel.

Lily makes note of Mr. Ramsay’s boots and his recitation of Tennyson’s poems. She recalls moving the salt cellar at dinner and describes the animal skull on the nursery wall and the tapping sound of the window blind’s acorn on the nursery floor. And in a fresh take-off on Woolf’s famous line in “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid” (1940), “Thinking is my fighting,” Lily proclaims that painting is hers.

If you are a fan of Woolf, this is a must-read. If you are not, it will make you want to become one, just so you can connect this enchanting novel to Woolf’s works.

More on the novel

Talland House was shortlisted for the Impress and Fresher Fiction prizes in 2017 (as Who Killed Mrs. Ramsay?) and the Retreat West and Eyelands prizes in 2018.

Read more about Talland House:

Maggie Humm has brilliantly filled in the edges beyond Woolf’s canvas; she has a deep, awe-inspiring understanding of the role of the visual in Woolf’s work, and here she reveals that she also has a novelist’s gift to create something new, that has its own imaginative life, from that understanding. -Lauren Elkin, author of the award-winning Flaneuse

Maggie Humm talking about Virginia Woolf and her photo albums at Waterstone’s Gower Street during Dalloway Day celebrations in London in 2018.

 

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: